Tag Archives: nature

Fear and Swimming in Lake Jordan

As a child I wondered just how fast I could run if I was being chased by a monster. I believed, as many of us do, that if I was truly terrified I could probably run twice as fast as I normally did. I am sure you have heard stories of heroic efforts put forth by a mother, lifting a car to save her child.  I hope I never find out if I am capable of such feats of strength.  But after this morning I can tell you one thing for certain – I don’t swim very fast when I am petrified.  In fact, panic seems to slow me down quite a bit.

5 am.  No coffee yet.  Not yet petrified.

5 am. No coffee yet. Not yet petrified.

I left my house a little before six this morning.  Driving to Jordan Lake to participate in my first open water swim competition I was not particularly worried.  I have been swimming more than usual as I attempt to get over a nasty case of tendonitis.  I am a swimmer.  I’ve always been a swimmer.  I was never particularly fast but I swam on the swim team as a kid.  I was a lifeguard well in to my early 20s.  One mile.  36 laps in a 25 yard pool.  The toughest part for me is keeping track of the number of laps.  I am a swimmer.

We lined up on the concrete slab used for boats at Jordan Lake.   I watched the swimmers heading in for the Big Deuce (the two mile swim.) I watched carefully. As far as I could tell it looked like the concrete went down almost to the end of the dock.  I thought I was going to be okay.

I have two fears.  Maybe more than two, but I have only two deep-down-in-my-bones fears.  Mud and strangers touching me.  I can’t recall the source of either fear.  I was never tackled to the ground by an angry mob on a muddy field.  I just don’t like the feeling of mud between my toes.  When teenagers were swinging on rope swings and jumping in and out of creeks I abstained.  No level of freedom made mud between my toes sound like a good idea.  I stopped going in the creek when I stopped being able to keep my jellies on.  And strangers touching me?  That really doesn’t need an explanation, does it?  I’m not big on hugging a casual friend.  So elbow to elbow in an elevator or a crowded mall?  I don’t like it.  I just don’t enjoy the feeling.

The apparent lack of mud at the race’s start was all that was keeping this experience from being a perfect storm.  There was no avoiding the groping that would take place as more than a hundred swimmers take off at once.  And once we were swimming? There was bound to be a few moments when swimmers collided or a stray arm grazed my leg.

Two cups of coffee down.  Three hours of sleep.  Mildly afraid.

Two cups of coffee down. Three hours of sleep. Mildly afraid.

I was ready for that.  The mud and the strangers.

I was totally and completely ill prepared for the panic, however.  We were treading water at the starting line and counting down.  Three.  Two.  One.  Go!  I put my head down and started to swim.  I had avoided the mud and now I just needed to get past the arms and the hands and the strangers.  I had planned to start slow and easy, conserve my breath.  A stroke and a breath.  Two strokes and a breath and … gasp.  My heart was pounding.  Light brown, murky water.  That was all I could see.  I lifted my head out of the water and looked towards the first buoy.  Face back down in the water.  Stroke and a breath.  Stroke and stroke and a breath and …

Fuck.  This.  That’s what I thought as my feet drifted downward and I began to tread water.  Beneath my goggles I felt my eyes fill with tears and I said out loud “I don’t like this.”  And then I smiled.

Hours in to my labor with Lucy I told my  doula “I don’t like this.”  She laughed and said something to the effect of “It’s a little late to stop.”  I wasn’t going to turn around. I was not going to swim back to the dock.  Lifeguards helping me out of the water asking “Are you ok?” How would I respond?  “Oh, I am fine.  I just… umm… hate this.  It’s … scary.”

I had identified the feeling. I was scared.  Terrified, really.  I hadn’t thought much about the fact that I wouldn’t be able to see anything.  It was like swimming with my eyes closed. Even if I swam painfully slowly I would be finished in under 40 minutes.  My slow and easy mile swim in a pool is about 31 minutes.  Forty minutes max.  I was in labor for hours and hours and I did not like that, either.

I needed a plan.  Ten strokes of freestyle, five breast stroke as a reward.  Fifteen strokes and five more.  Twenty strokes and five strokes of breast stroke.  Twenty five and then thirty.  I never made it past thirty.  At thirty my heart would pound in my chest and I’d be convinced I was going to swim off the side of the planet. And I’d start over again with ten strokes.

And so on and on it went.  I would calm down.  I’d sing songs in my head and count strokes and start to think “There’s another mile swim here in September, I know what to expect now and I think I’d be fine and….” gasp.  The heart pounding fear would be back, like on a roller coaster when you think that there can’t possibly be ANOTHER death drop.

38 minutes.  Well, 38 minutes and 13 seconds but who is counting. 9th in my age group of 16 competitors.  63rd out of 125 swimmers. Looking at the race stats the average time was 38:51.

Petrified and swimming breast stroke at least a third of the way, I held my own.

My heart has stopped racing.  But I haven’t.  I’m signing up for the one mile in September.  I’d do the two mile, but I haven’t totally lost my mind.

There are not enough ways to scare the shit out of ourselves as adults.  As children we get scared frequently.  Sometimes we cry, sometimes we scream.  But 75% of the time we catch our breath and cry out “Let’s do it again!”

And I need a reason to keep swimming.

In the last month I have iced and stretched and yoga’ed.  I have been swimming a lot.  A nasty case of tendonitis and bursitis in my hips has sidelined my running and cycling.  And so I go to yoga and I swim and I walk and I try not to get angry with myself.  Because anger has very little do with healing. But fear might.  Because I feel better tonight than I have in weeks.

Three cups of coffee.  One mile swim.  Two bagels and a Gatorade.


Inside a Paper Bag

photo (4)As a teenager I looked through the big box of family photographs often.  Pictures from the late 1970s were in albums.  They had rounded corners and a vintage feel.  As time went by the pictures never made it in to an album.  They were in Kodak envelopes, labelled “Rehoboth Beach, 1982.”

Whether the pictures were in books or sorted in to piles there was one thing in common year after year.  There were pictures of us sleeping, a tiny Kelly with a  Snoopy in a rainbow bedroom, my brother in his Smurf sweatsuit curled up in my dad’s chair.  As a teenager I didn’t understand why there were so many of these pictures.  We were just sleeping.

My dad used to joke us when we were little,  “You’re good kids, when you’re asleep.”  As a parent I can certainly agree.  There is little more wonderful than a sleeping child, the frenetic energy of the afternoon exchanged for the slow and steady breath of night.

I spent a lot of time the last few days sitting on the edge of my bed just watching them – my girls, snuggled up asleep.  We’ve had five days of Ladies’ Nights.  We have had quick dinners and eaten dessert on a blanket in the living room.  We watched Footloose and Project Runway and we painted our nails.  These little sleeping beauties, they are my good kids – “when [they’re] asleep.”

I look at them and I wonder if they will have a childhood like I did.  They will ride their bikes, they will play in the creek.  They will have birthday parties in our back yard. We will have pizza at the pool.  I will take pictures of them while they sleep.  It will be the same.

They won’t have a TV Guide to circle their Saturday morning cartoon choices.  They won’t tie an index card with their name and address to a balloon and set it free, hoping against hope for a reply in the mail some day.  They will not likely ever have a teacher that calls their handouts “dittos.”    And unless I print some of these images their teenage selves might not roll their eyes at the numerous pictures of them sleeping.  Many things will be different.

When I was a little girl and I was waiting for the bus to come in the morning I would watch the sky. There is a moment when the sky goes from pink to tan right before the sun comes up, right before the school bus comes. I used to pretend that my whole neighborhood was inside a paper shopping bag.  This morning while Emily was putting her shoes on and Lucy was still asleep I stepped outside on to the deck and looked at the sky.  There was a paper bag all around me.

The sky turned from tan to sunlit before Em finished tying her shoes.  I need to remember to show my girls the paper bag that surrounds us.  I need to do it quickly while they still remember what a paper shopping bag looks like.  A few more years from now you might not ever see one at the store.  The only paper bag left will be the one that surrounds my neighborhood early in the morning.  Their childhood is different.  But it is the same.

photo 1


Christmas in the Cackalackey


Sometimes the spirit moves you slowly.  In years past the Christmas spirit has crept in on little cat feet like Carl Sandburg’s Fog. Christmas usually comes in slowly.

This weekend it was unseasonably warm.  I didn’t expect the spirit to grab me. I was in the produce section at the grocery store.  I cruised right by the poinsettias.  I didn’t bat an eye at the paperwhites.  It was almost 65 degrees outside.  I was wearing flip flops.  Christmas was coming.  But it wasn’t coming today.

Christmas candy

And then I saw them.  All at once two things happened. The Christmas Spirit seized me.  And I was an old, old woman.

I don’t think these Christmas candies have ever looked good to me before.  But I wanted them.  I am blaming it on Sudden Onset Christmas Spirit Disorder and not some kind of rapid aging.

I resisted the candies.

But it was a close call.  As I walked through the grocery store I had the fully formed thought “I should really keep my eyes open for some kind of a crystal dish.” A crystal candy dish?  I have small children.  I am in my mid thirties, I am in my sexual prime, dammit!!  A crystal candy dish??!! The Christmas Spirit works in mysterious ways.

Hours later the spirit had grabbed hold of me. The tree was up. The mantle is half decorated.  Rudolf is hanging on the wall.    I had the girls take naps so we could decorate the tree in the evening and not stress bedtime.     It was shaping up to be a good day.  The tree would go up in a corner I could gate off. It is possible that Lucy will not crush herself or ruin 36 years of ornaments.  I was wearing a velour sweat suit.  MQD was out with his father to watch football.  The windows were open.  Chili in the crock pot.  I didn’t dare ask the Universe for another thing.

Lucy was running like a drunken linebacker with her hands up.  It is a text book bum rush.  I glanced at her and back to what I was doing, I had a few seconds before she would slam in to my legs. “Mamamamamaaaa….” I wasn’t sure I’d heard it until I looked to Emily.  Her mother’s girl, her eyes were wet and already leaking “Mom!!! She said Mama!”


I dropped to the floor and tried to hold her in my arms, to drink in this baby that is growing before my eyes.  She was in a hurry.  She had things to do. I let her go.  My baby had called for me.  I was Mama.

The day carried on.  We took showers.


We put on Christmas pajamas and we decorated the tree.


The Christmas Spirit has grabbed hold of Mama by her ankles and it is pulling me under.  I might not come up for air for the entire month.  This evening when MQD and his father walked in to the house I was peace.  I was love.  I was goodwill.  

There is only one spirit stronger than the Christmas Spirit.  

And damn if they didn’t stroll in the house with some. Now excuse me, I need to kick back and watch a Christmas movie and sip a little shine. Christmas spirit is swell.  But the white lightning is the spirit that warms me head to toe.



The vernal equinox. March 20th .  The days will start getting longer.

Two months ago today we met our little Lucy. And every day since then I’ve told her I couldn’t possibly love her more than I do.

But starting today I will have a little more time each day to see her face. The added sunshine will give us time to walk the dog, work in the yard, take her big, strong, funny sister to soccer practice. We will cook dinner outside on the grill and before the days start to get shorter our sweet little girl will be sitting out there with us. On a blanket in the evening sun. Sitting.

Five minutes ago Emily June was two months old.

Flowers are poking out of the ground. Buds on the trees are beginning to crack open. And this little face… I am starting to know her. To see her smile.
Our little girl is in there. Inside our baby. And one night I will fall asleep with my baby nestled in the crook of my arm. And I will wake to a sweet and cuddly little girl. Amazed at how beautiful she is I’ll not look back to see the baby. Until it’s too late.

Spring is about becoming.  You’ve changed all of us. Emily has become this incredible big sister. You tamed my wild girl.  She is quiet as not to wake you, cautious as she rocks you.   Your father, who has been an amazing father to your sister since long before he had the title has become a Daddy.

The springtime goes by too quickly. In North Carolina Summer’s heat surrounds you before you’ve finished packing away your sweaters. But not this year.

I will cherish every night my little Lucy wakes me. I will remember. This baby. As she becomes a little girl.   Two months. It was Winter when you were born, sweet girl. And now it is Spring.

Sweet girl. You are sweet. You’re the icing on my cake. And I’m gonna eat you with a spoon, sweet girl. Your feet won’t touch the ground until your headed off to school. You won’t sleep in your own bed until you can ask me for one.

Keep it up.  All this growing.You will always be Baby D.